March Madness may increase enrollment at FGCU

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Florida Gulf Coast’s Sherwood Brown (25) celebrates in front of the fans in the stands after his team defeated Mercer in an NCAA college basketball game for the Atlantic Sun men’s tournament championship, in Macon, Ga., Saturday, March 9, 2013. Florida Gulf Coast won 88-75. (AP Photo/Woody Marshall)

School spirit was at an all-time high Sunday evening when the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team (24-10) earned a trip to the NCAA tournament as a No. 15 seed. The Eagles will face No. 2 seed Georgetown (25-6) Friday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

This is the first trip to the NCAA tournament for the FGCU men’s basketball team in only two years of eligibility.

“It’s a big deal for our school because we’ll be on national television,” freshman Nicolas Twardus said. “It has a big impact on enrollment and how many freshmen come here next year, because people locally and nationally will see what FGCU brings to the table.”

Approximately 13,000 students go to FGCU, and that number continues to grow due, in part, to the Eagles athletic programs. Last year, Major League Baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and FGCU alum Chris Sale played in the MLB All Star Game. Sale’s appearance in the mid-summer classic gave FGCU national recognition alongside the FGCU women’s basketball team’s trip to the NCAA tournament last spring.

The official NCAA March Madness app’s Twitter feed also shows signs of FGCU getting national recognition, like this tweet from @Csargent122: “Don’t be surprised if Florida Gulf Coast upsets Georgetown #hearditherefirst”

The Eagles average attendance for men’s basketball games this season is another sign of the community and student body rallying around this squad. The 2012-2013 average of 2,290 trumped the 2011-2012 average of 1,775 fans per game, according to the FGCU athletic department.

The highlight of FGCU’s season came early in the 2012-2013 season on Nov. 13. The Eagles defeated ACC regular-season and tournament champions Miami in front of a sellout crowd. The Hurricanes go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed playing No. 15 seed Pacific.

The Eagles are the underdogs going into the Georgetown matchup, but a No. 15 seed beating a No. 2 seed is not unusual in the NCAA tournament. Last year, Lehigh and Norfolk State beat both No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri, respectively, in a matter of hours.

“Who knows? FGCU could pull off the upset and beat Georgetown,” Twardus said. “I could see this school becoming (like) Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) if we win, because after their run in the NCAA tournament they made a name for themselves and are known nationally.”

A trip to the NCAA tournament also has a major impact on recruiting and building the basketball program.

“Our basketball program’s success helps with FGCU’s name recognition within the state of Florida, regionally, and nationally for prospective basketball recruits, as well as prospective students,” FGCU men’s basketball head coach Andy Enfield said.

“It gives FGCU a huge credibility factor because they are now a tournament team,” Twardus said.  “When Coach Enfield goes out on recruiting trips, he can use this as a tool to get more recruits here.”

Major state universities like the University of Florida and Florida State University enrollments skyrocketed when its sports programs began excelling, and there is no sign that this will not happen to FGCU after the publicity of this trip to the NCAA tournament.